Friends of Refugees

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Archive for the ‘North Dakota’ Category

Over 100 protest Fargo TV station after dishonest refugee report

Posted by Christopher Coen on May 22, 2016

Protest at Valley News Live

Protest at Valley News Live, May 22, 2016

After a local TV station in Fargo in North Dakota aired an inaccurate and inflammatory news report this week on refugees and tuberculosis a group of over 100 protesters showed up at the station today to protest the report. Health officials in North Dakota and Minnesota told The Forum that refugees do not pose a serious health risk with tuberculosis. An article and video at The Fargo Forum covered the protest:

FARGO – Around 100 people chanted “Just tell the truth!” as they protested a Fargo TV station on Sunday following a report it aired about the supposed health risks of living near refugees.

The report on Valley News Live on Monday, which said “everyone” living in “refugee resettlement areas” was at risk of getting tuberculosis, drew condemnation from the immigrant community and even elected leaders.

…Fargo Deputy Mayor Mike Williams spoke at the protest, publicly criticizing the report….

Health officials in North Dakota and Minnesota have told The Forum that refugees do not pose a serious health risk with tuberculosis. Refugees are screened for the bacterial disease, which is also treatable… Read more here

Posted in health, North Dakota, right-wing, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Right-wing falsely claiming refugees pose public health risk with tuberculosis

Posted by Christopher Coen on May 19, 2016


The far-right fringe is currently attempting to provoke fear among the public with false information about refugees spreading tuberculosis. A media outlet in Fargo in North Dakota, referred to locally, mockingly, as “Valley Hate Live”, is telling viewers that “everyone” living in “refugee resettlement areas” is at risk. Local and state health officials, however, refute such claims, pointing out that North Dakota has one of the lowest rates of tuberculosis in the country: 1.19 cases per 100,000 residents – nine cases of active tuberculosis – down from 15 cases in 2014. They also point out that the disease is not highly contagious. An article in the Grand Forks Herald has the story:

…Dr. John Baird, health officer at Fargo-Cass Public Health, …said refugees do not pose a public health risk with tuberculosis. He said the bacterial disease is “not a major problem for our community”…

Asked if living in a refugee neighborhood would pose a health risk, North Dakota Department of Health tuberculosis expert Dee Pritschet said, “I don’t know why it would be.”

North Dakota has one of the lowest rates of tuberculosis in the country: 1.19 cases per 100,000 residents. In 2015, it had a lower rate than 44 states and the District of Columbia. There were nine cases of active tuberculosis in North Dakota that year, down from 15 cases in 2014.

Minnesota has a higher rate than North Dakota—2.73 cases per 100,000 residents—but remains below the national average. Minnesota saw 150 cases in 2015, up from 147 cases in 2014…

Health officials say tuberculosis is low on the list of diseases Americans should be worried about. It’s spread through the air but not highly contagious, unlike measles or influenza, said Doug Schultz, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health.

To get infected “requires prolonged, close contact,” he said. “Just being in the proximity of someone with tuberculosis, you’re considered a low risk”…

Refugees are screened for health problems before entering the U.S. and again upon entry. They are tested for tuberculosis and are not allowed entry if they have active tuberculosis…

Refugees are not required to be vaccinated against tuberculosis. The tuberculosis vaccine has not been proven to be effective, and it’s not used in the U.S., health officials say…

The U.S. does not block people who have latent tuberculosis because it “is extremely common in the rest of the world and it’s not contagious,” Baird said.

Health officials acknowledge latent tuberculosis can become active. Schultz said that happens 5 to 10 percent of the time.

“Can we really humanely not allow them to come to the U.S. because of a disease that they might possibly develop?” he said. “We have individuals in the U.S. who travel to countries all the time where other infectious diseases are common and they can certainly bring those back with them. … That’s probably a greater risk than allowing refugees who may have latent tuberculosis”… Read more here

Posted in health, North Dakota, right-wing, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refugee women hindered by isolation and cultural barriers

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 22, 2016


Refugee and immigrant women and those working with them in the Fargo-Moorhead (North Dakota/Minnesota) area are working together to help refugee women overcome isolation and cultural barriers. Isolation results from being uprooted from traditional cultures that placed a strong emphasis on community and family, and from communities where women lived in close contact with extended families. Isolation intensifies from cultural differences, language barriers, and a lack of opportunities to connect with local people in the United States. Moving into a very individualistic society can also make it harder for them to recover from the trauma of experiences they suffered as refugees. An article at the student newspaper The Concordian explains:

Darci Ashe…has worked with…refugee women for more than 20 years. She is a…former longtime employee at Lutheran Social Services, and the current Director of Development at the New American Consortium for Wellness and Empowerment, or WE Center, in Fargo…In all of these roles, Ashe has been exposed to the challenges that these women face. The greatest obstacle she sees in the lives of the female refugees she works with is a sense of isolation. Many of them come from villages where family and friends lived side by side, offering companionship and sharing the burden of childbearing. When they come to America, they leave this community behind…

Jonix Owino is not a refugee, but she is familiar with the experience of transitioning to American life as an African woman. She has also seen this kind of isolation at work. After completing her undergraduate work in her hometown of Nairobi, Kenya, Owino moved to Fargo to obtain her master’s of sociology degree at North Dakota State University. One day after moving to Fargo, she had a conversation with a refugee woman who had been in America for more than 10 years.

“I asked her, ‘Who are your friends? What are your networks?’” Owino said. “She told me that she had nobody outside of her immediate family.”

Owino was inspired by this one woman’s experience to complete her master’s thesis on the isolation of refugee women in America. She designed a study to see if such isolation was a common theme among all refugee women in the area and interviewed ten refugee women, all 40 years or older and from different countries. She found that all of them, to some extent, were experiencing the same isolation.

While compiling her research, Owino found that some of the most common causes of this isolation were cultural differences, language barriers, and a lack of opportunities to connect with local people. Many of these women are escaping war and violence in countries that placed a very strong emphasis on community and family. “Moving into a very individualistic society can make it harder for them to recover from their very distressing lives,” she said.

For this reason, Owino and Ashe agree that women like Adde, who come to America without a spouse or children, are at an advantage. Without a husband to rely on they are forced to integrate; to receive government benefits they are required to go out, learn English, and get a job…

Even when refugee women are able to find work and some sense of community, culture shock can still prevent them from growing accustomed to their new life.

“For a lot of the women, where they’re coming from, there’s already a kind of oppression,” Ashe explains. “And so when they come to the U.S., often times women are struggling to kind of figure out how to maneuver in that more progressive atmosphere.”

In many ways, this new, progressive society can bring with it new forms of oppression. Many of the traditions and customs that these women have known their whole lives are no longer acceptable when they come to America, and they are forced to choose between carrying on a tradition that is considered  inappropriate or to give up a piece of themselves… Read more here

Posted in acculturative stress - adaping to a new land/culture, alienation-isolation, Kenyen, North Dakota, Somali, women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

North Dakota Somali restaurant arsonist charged with using destructive device in crime of violence

Posted by Christopher Coen on March 29, 2016

Matthew Gust - right-wing poster boy?

Matthew Gust – right-wing poster boy?

A Minnesota man accused of starting a fire that heavily damaged a Somali restaurant in Grand Forks in North Dakota is now facing charges of using a destructive device during a crime of violence (a molotov cocktail). That charge carries a mandatory minimum term of 30 years in prison and a maximum of life. Matthew Gust is also charged with arson, a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison The fire, which caused about $90,000 worth of damage, was ignited days after a Nazi-like symbol was spray-painted on the restaurant’s exterior above the words “go home.” Other businesses in the building also were affected. In 2012 in Grand Forks County District Court Gust plead guilty to charges of terrorizing, simple assault and preventing arrest, all Class C felonies, after he threatened staff at Romantix, an adult entertainment store in downtown Grand Forks (frequented by some men from the LGBT community). He also plead guilty to assaulting a police officer in 2011. An article at Minnesota Public Radio has the details on the newest charges:

Federal prosecutors have beefed up charges against a Minnesota man accused of starting a fire that heavily damaged a Somali restaurant in Grand Forks.

Matthew Gust, of East Grand Forks, Minn., appeared in court Monday on a charge of use of a destructive device during a crime of violence. That charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison and a mandatory minimum term of 30 years. It is the second charge in the case… Read more here

An article at The Grant Forks Herald has more details from the case:

…Matthew William Gust, 25, East Grand Forks, was charged Friday with arson, a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison, in Grand Forks County District Court. A judge signed a warrant for Gust’s arrest, and police were looking for Gust Friday evening.

The FBI confirmed Thursday it had opened an investigation into the arson attack at Juba Coffee House and Restaurant to determine whether any federal laws had been broken. Federal charges could still be leveled if investigators and federal prosecutors find reason to pursue them… Read more here

Posted in court, hate crimes, North Dakota, police, right-wing, security/terrorism, Somali | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Somali restaurant in Grand Forks, N. Dakota vandalized with Nazi graffiti

Posted by Christopher Coen on December 8, 2015


**UPDATE**Dozens gather to show solidarity for Somali-owned coffee shop

Dec. 9, 2015 – Photo, video of arson suspect at Grand Forks Somali restaurant released

Dec. 11, 2015 – Suspect identified in Tuesday’s Juba Café fire in Grand Forks

Investigators have determined that a fire on Tuesday at a popular Somali restaurant in downtown Grand Forks, North Dakota was arson. It followed five days after someone spray-painted SS and “go home” on the front of the building last Thursday. The estimated damage is about $90,000 to the building and contents. For the past two years, Lutheran Social Services has resettled an average of 500 refugees per year in the state, though annual resettlement numbers have slowly decreased in Grand Forks from a peak 132 total people in 2013. This year mostly Bhutanese and Somali refugees have settled in the city. Many of them find work at Walmart, American Crystal Sugar, Simplot, Canad Inns and other employers. This apparent hate crime follows other crimes targeting Muslims in recent weeks, including vandalism and a fire attack on a Texas mosque, death threats, a shooting in Pittsburgh, and a pig’s head was thrown at a mosque in Philadelphia. An article in The Forum has more:

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Someone spray-painted what appears to be a Nazi symbol on a Somali restaurant that later caught fire in Grand Forks.
The fire early Tuesday heavily damaged Juba Coffee House, a popular Somali restaurant.

Grand Forks Police are investigating an apparent hate crime that occurred overnight Thursday, when someone painted the graffiti on the exterior wall of the building. The graffiti included what appears to be an SS, in the style of an old Nazi Germany symbol, above the painted words, “go home”… Read more here


GRAND FORKS – Investigators have found that an early morning fire that badly damaged a Somali restaurant was ignited purposefully.

The Grand Forks Fire Department has turned over the investigation of the fire at Juba Coffee House, a popular Somali restaurant on South

Washington Street in Grand Forks, to the Grand Forks Police Department. Fire marshals and the department said in an afternoon news release the fire was “incendiary and suspicious in nature.” … Read more here

Posted in hate crimes, intimidation of refugees, Lutheran Social Services of ND, Muslim, North Dakota, right-wing, Somali | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Refugee kids calling 911

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 20, 2011

An article in Public Radio International’s The World explains the issue of managing refugee children in their transition to a new culture — in particular, their newfound power of dialing 911. The article also explains related language-barrier problems.

Fargo police officer Cristie Jacobsen has responded to a lot of 9-11 calls, but few with less urgency than this one. “A teenage girl called the police on her mother because her mother had prepared a very simple ethnic meal for her and she didn’t like it,” said Jacobsen.

Coming to a new nation as a refugee — adjusting to a new language, culture, and climate — is always a struggle. But now in Fargo, North Dakota many refugee parents are being manipulated by their children.

Refugee children have been calling the Fargo Police because they don’t want to do the dishes or wear a particular shirt. They’ve also gotten a lot of calls about this: Parents were taking away their kid’s Mountain Dew.

The children didn’t like it,” said Jacobsen. “Because they had gotten used to drinking it, they enjoyed the caffeine splurge and things like that and so it became a power struggle.”… Read more here

Posted in children, cultural adjustment, language, North Dakota | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“Mental illness? Sorry, we don’t cover that. Need an interpreter? Oh well.”

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 31, 2011

According to an employee who manages health and wellness programs at Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) in Connecticut it’s almost next to impossible to get mental health care if you have Medicaid. Waiting lists are often longer then the eight months of Medicaid coverage for refugees. Need a translator? Sorry, many therapists don’t work with them. Plus, physicians aren’t trained to work with interpreters. The New Haven Independent tells more: 

The soldiers dragged out a pregnant woman and slit open her belly. A witness who was personally tortured for his political activism in Congo is more haunted by that image than his own pain.

Safe in Connecticut now, he has daily flashbacks and wants to see a therapist in order to cope with this memory as well as the stress of leaving his home, friends and family to start a new life in America.

But it will likely take months before he gets help. And if he does his therapist must speak French to communicate with him or be willing to work through an interpreter. To make matters worse, those months of waiting work against him – since he’ll qualify for health coverage for a limited time…

…About 28,000 refugees currently live in Connecticut, according to Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) in New Haven. Many refugees come to the U.S. after suffering through traumatic experiences in their home countries, but financial and language barriers often keep them from getting mental health care.

This is one of many shortcomings in the services offered to refugees, according to a report issued this month by the Congressional Research Service, which was critical of federal resettlement programs that provide short term aid and often do not address the unique problems that refugees face, including trauma histories.

The long-term consequences of not providing refugees with good mental health care are devastating, according to Mary Scully, director of programs for Khmer Health Advocates in West Hartford. She connects untreated mental illness in her clients who came to the United States in the 1970s and 1980s with a wave a physical illness in the Cambodian-American community today. “Now we see the whole gamut of trauma-induced chronic disease,” she said.

The witness and other refugees need to go to providers who accept Medicaid, which covers refugees for their first eight months in the U.S. “It’s almost next to impossible to get mental health care if you have Medicaid,” said Kelly Hebrank, who manages health and wellness programs at IRIS. The providers who do accept Medicaid have long waiting lists, she said.

That waiting list means the duration of therapy is shorter, explained Zurowski.  She has advocated nationally for extending the period of Medicaid coverage so that refugees have longer to establish themselves in jobs that offer health benefits. The Congressional Research Service also identified the short duration of Medicaid for refugees as a problem…

A greater barrier is the refusal of some therapists to work through interpreters. Health care providers may resist using interpreters because it takes time during the appointment, time already limited by insurance regulations, said Dr. Hendry Ton, director of the University of California Davis Transcultural Wellness Center. “It’s almost an incentive not to use an interpreter,” said Ton, who is a psychiatrist. Most physicians, he added, are not trained to work through interpreters. Nor is there any standard of training for medical interpreters…Read more here

I guess I’m not understanding why a physician would need training to treat a patient who communicates through an interpreter. And why would any therapist worth their weight in salt not be willing to work through interpreters?

The interpretation for refugees at medical appointments reminds of a time in 2005 when a Sudanese refugee arrived with a giant mass protruding from his back (approximately 6’”x 5” and sticking out 2-3”) . Firstly, no one from his resettlement agency came to pick him up for his medical specialist appointment for this apparent tumor, so he had to wait another month for a new appointment. This time I took him to his appointment at which there was no scheduled interpreter even though he spoke Sudanese Arabic but almost no English. As a result of the lack of interpretation services medical personnel were not able to inject him for the CT scan as they were not willing to risk being unable to communicate with him in the event he had an adverse reaction to the injection. He then had another appointment at which there was only a Somali interpreter who spoke very little Arabic. Luckily, the CT scan done without the injection was sufficient that the doctor was then able to determine the need for a biopsy.

Once again I took him to the next appointment for the biopsy and, once again, there was no interpreter. The medical personnel then suddenly got the idea to call the Language Line (an over-the-phone interpretation service), although the refugee later complained that the interpreter on the Language Line spoke a Kurdish Arabic that he could not fully understand. As a result of this insufficient interpretation he endured a biopsy into muscle tissue in his back, including cauterization, while not being able to communicate to medical personnel that he had insufficient local anesthesia. He later said that the pain was excruciating. They then scheduled him for an X-ray. Once again, no interpreter arrived.

He was later diagnosed as having a hemangioma (most of the time a benign tumor of the capillaries or blood vessels – although rare for being of this large a size and at this location in the muscle of the back) and scheduled for an injection by an interventional radiologist in order to shrink the tumor. Unfortunately, he was so traumatized by this time by the earlier biopsy without sufficient local anesthesia that he then refused to go back to the doctor. All during this time his resettlement agency seemed oblivious to his case. At no time during my interaction with this refugee did anyone from his resettlement agency ever try to help him navigate the health care system, provide him with rides to the doctor or even a bus pass when he ran out of passes, or anything else that would have been helpful. They seem to have no awareness or interest in his plight. He later moved out of town having never returned to the doctor for treatment, and I sometimes wonder what his fate was.

Posted in Congolese, Connecticutt, Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS), Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS), language, Lutheran Social Services of ND, mental health, New Haven, North Dakota | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Revolving door keeps twirling between government oversight & refugee resettlement agencies

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 30, 2011

The revolving door between government oversight and refugee resettlement agencies is alive and well. The Fargo Forum reports that Linda Schell, the former state refugee coordinator for the North Dakota, has now been hired by Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota (LSSND):

Linda Schell has been named assistant state refugee coordinator for New American Services, a program of Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, Fargo.

Schell has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Denver.

She was most recently the state refugee coordinator for the North Dakota Department of Human Services and has more than 30 years of experience in the public and nonprofit sectors. here

I met with Ms. Schell one time to discuss LSSND’s chronic neglect of their refugee clients, and Ms. Schell’s seemingly inability to curtail that neglect. Ms. Schell offered no feedback or solutions and instead spent the hour taking notes. When we later requested the notes via an Open Records request, to find out what was going since no one was telling us anything, Ms. Scheel’s state agency told us that the notes no longer existed. Why would someone takes detailed notes for an hour only to destroy them? Or were they destroyed after we requested them but before the state agency replied to us?

What can be said is that Ms. Schell spent years protecting LSSND and is now being amply rewarding for her loyalty with a private sector job with LSSND. And on and on it goes…

Posted in Lutheran Social Services of ND, neglect, North Dakota, revolving door | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

U.S. Customs and Border Protection civil servants at it again

Posted by Christopher Coen on December 6, 2010

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection civil servants have now responded to my FOIA request by releasing the 11 page report about their detention of Somali refugee(s) in Grand Forks – albeit the report is almost completely redacted. Apparently I am no longer considered a “commercial entity”, the excuse they used to delay release of the report for a month-and-a-half. I asked them what reason they had to ever consider me a commercial entity, and no response. They simply released the report suddenly and don’t answer the question.

Notice that one excuse used for the hundreds of redactions is that it would pose an “undo invasion of people’s privacy.” Yet they have even redacted the number of arrests, whether the person/people were male or female, and his/her/their citizenship status. How on earth would any of that be an undo invasion of privacy? It wouldn’t. We would have no way of knowing who the person/people are. If this public agency was operating on the up and up they would only have removed information that would show a person’s/people’s identity, e.g. name, address, date of birth, social security number, etc.

What we obviously have here is what we have seen at other government agencies — violation of U.S. laws (e.g. the Freedom of Information Act) simply to protect their own public servant hides and to avoid any accountability to the public, rather than protecting information that truly needs to be withheld. In other words, these government workers have a private interest in the information being hidden from the public, rather than any real public interest. That’s your money.

Remaining unanswered is why the Grand Forks Police asked for identification from members of the public who were merely watching the police at work. Also unanswered is why the U.S. Customs and Border Protection would then detain a person or people who had not engaged in any suspicious activity, let alone any illegal activity.

Posted in immigration documents, Lutheran Social Services of ND, Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, North Dakota, openess and transparency in government, police, Somali, U.S. Customs & Border Protection | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

U.S. Customs and Border Protection says using documents to assist refugees and educate the public about refugees is “unconvincing”

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 30, 2010

I just received another letter today from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection about my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. A public servant named Dorothy Pullo, Director of FOIA Division, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, in reply to my letter of November 3, 2010 claims that I indicated my belief that, “a message was being sent to residents by the involvement of the U.S. Border Patrol.” As I didn’t make any such statement in my letter I can only assume that Ms. Pullo is again internet surfing in a desperate bid to figure out how to overide my statements to her, rather than simply reading my letter. (I wonder if I’m going to be charged again for this additional internet surfing?) Notice, however, that I never made any such statement in my posting. I said that the Grand Forks Police were sending a message to anyone who dared stand and watch them by making those residents show documents.

Ms. Pullo also claims that, “your argument that the documents requested are to be used to assist refugees and educate the public about refugees is unconvincing”, and, “It appears likely the requested documents would be used in a manner consistent with interests of you and Friends of Refugees thus placing your request in the commercial-use requester fee category.” Thus I will need to pay at least $91.60 for them to press the print button on their computer and mail the 11 page document to me.

This is funny because that’s all I do – assist refugees and educate the public about refugees. Ms. Pullo offers no reason for why she would think I have any “commercial” interests in helping refugees or educating the public about refugees, probably because she has no real reason to think so.

I think what we have here is yet another government bureaucrat, whose salary we pay and who supposedly ought to be serving us, who thinks its her job to withhold government documents from the public and not abide by U.S. laws (Freedom of Information Act). Abiding by the law must seem like such an inconvenience to her.

Posted in Dept of Homeland Security, immigration documents, Lutheran Social Services of ND, North Dakota, openess and transparency in government, police, Somali, U.S. Customs & Border Protection | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »


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